Previously in Leeford Village: Clara Dennis has kept an expensive looking ring she has found at the charity shop where she is a volunteer. Her husband, George, is visiting a school where he used to be headmaster. A stranger has been leaving drawings and Swedish phrases on beer mats in the pub and Sergeant Stephen Miller is investigating the mystery of the missing gnomes.
Six months ago, Banfield Council devolved some powers to local parish councils in the borough. Leeford Village, used as the guinea pig for the devolution roll-out, embraced the scheme with enthusiasm. Determined that only local people could be elected to the parish council committee, they insisted that to qualify for a seat, the representative must not only live in Leeford Village, they must also own their own home. Causing even more of a stir, it was decided that only the head of each household could apply. A maximum of eighteen delegates could take seats, but only fifteen applied - no election required.
Nick Allthorpe, the Community Centre Manager, brings out his best golden drawing pins (reserved for special occasions and official council business) to attach the list of representatives to the notice board. The irony had not been lost on him that as he rented a flat in the village with his partner, Jessica Townley, he did not qualify. Frank Watson, never short of an opinion, feels compelled to comment.
‘Bit of a shame, you being Community Centre Manager.’
‘Quiet day in East Banfield, Frank?’
‘Don’t take it to heart. Let’s have a look at the list anyway.’
‘No real surprises, Frank. You’re there obviously,’ adding in a subdued tone ‘as the current Parish Council Leader.’
Frank, owning a house in Green Crescent, just has to rub it in, and reads out the other names.
‘Steve Adams, Banfield Avenue; Nigel Cleeve, Market Street; Ted Coleman, East Banfield Road; George Dennis, Market Street; Ethel Lucas, Green Crescent; Stephen Miller, Mossy Grove; Rev John Peterson, Market Street; Dr Jeremy Roberts, Market Street; Suptra Singh, Green Crescent; Ken Taylor, Kidderminster Road (A449); Cody Thornton, Market Street; Daniel Windrush, Market Street; Adam Stringer, Green Crescent; David Ward, Market Street. No one in Spring Hill has applied to join the committee. Three places going begging. Shame you can’t apply, Nick. First Council meeting Thursday night, isn’t it?’
‘Feel better now, Frank?’
A predicament for Clara. The ring is safely tucked away in her ‘special’ jewellery box, positioned next to her late mother’s carriage clock on Clara’s dressing table. She hasn’t mentioned it to George for a number of reasons. First, he’s still away at the Old Boys’ function, the current headmaster asking him to stop on for a few more days. Second, he would forget what Clara said within minutes, with some comment about carrots or assorted fruit if questioned. Third, she doesn’t want to tell anyone. Instinctively she knows it is wrong, but George has never bought her anything nice or expensive (or nice AND expensive) and this piece of jewellery, she thinks, is exquisite. What to do? Clara often talks to her cuddly Snoopy, also positioned by her late mother’s carriage clock.
‘What do you think, Snoops? I would like to keep it, and I deserve it. I don’t get paid for the work I do. Don’t tell me, volunteering is volunteering, the clue’s in the word. I don’t have to do it.’
‘I don’t know. Why should I feel guilty?’
Still no answer.
‘Tell you what, if it makes you happy, I’ll put flyers up around the village about the bag. It’s a nice bag – worth getting back if it was a mistake - and if the owner comes in and mentions the ring, they can have it. I’ll say that we kept quiet about the ring in case we had a flood of people who wouldn’t mind a free piece of jewellery.’
At this, Snoopy falls off the dressing table. Clara doesn’t even notice.
Sheri Lyons is on the afternoon shift as Clara continues the debate with the prostrate cuddly dog. She had noticed something in Clara’s manner the day before as they carried out their usual handover. Shifty, she thought, but why? They had chatted about the bag, and the flyers, and of course no mention of the ring. There was something, though, definitely something. The last time Sheri had this feeling was the occasion of the Scrabble Dispute. Someone had mistakenly taken in a valuable first edition Scrabble game made in 1949. They had returned the next day to understandably swap it for a rather battered 1970s edition. Clara was having none of it, telling the generous donor to ‘sue me if you must’, locking the valuable artefact in the cabinet. He had sufficient self-control to prevent himself issuing physical threats to Clara, but did indeed insist that legal proceedings may well follow. On Sheri’s return to the shop, Clara said nothing, but Sheri has a knack of spotting an atmosphere as she enters a room. It took her two days to discover the truth about the game, and that was only because the donor had stormed into the shop shouting the odds. Ironically, on this occasion, Sheri checks the cabinet. No Scrabble games. I’ll get to the bottom of it, whatever it is, Sheri thinks.
The flyer has been up on the Community Centre notice board for less than an hour. Vera Cleeve enters the shop.
‘What can I do for you?’ asks Sheri.
‘The bag is mine.’
‘You know, the nice bag you’ve found.’
‘Oh, Clara’s flyer?’
‘It’s brown with cream flecks.’
‘From what I’ve seen of Clara’s flyer, anyone could say that. The photo she took on her phone is very clear. Can you describe it in more detail?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know, the colour of the material inside the bag, possible contents...’
‘Forget it Sheri. Thanks very much.’
Sheri shakes her head with an expression that says ‘typical’ as Vera blunders out of the shop. She doesn’t seem capable of entering or exiting a room or building in a, shall we say, normal way. Vera likes to make an entrance, and her style of exiting depends very much on the result of the current negotiations. She is always having negotiations, often with Sergeant Stephen Miller. She tries it on for personal gain, usually gnome-related gain, but a nice bag will do.
‘I’ll like to call this meeting to order.’
‘This isn’t the Commons, Frank.’
‘Mr Chairman, if you don’t mind.’
‘Point of order, Mr Chairman,’ from the back of the room.
‘You said there are no elections because only fifteen people applied for seats.’
‘Yes, that’s right Ken. What’s your point?’
‘My point is – does that mean you don’t have to be voted back in as chair?’
‘That’s up to you. Show of hands those who would like the committee to vote on the positions of Chair and Vice-Chair?’
Unanimous. Frank asks if anyone would like to put their name forward for either position. No takers, so he asks if someone could propose his name for Chair and Stephen Miller for Vice-Chair. No one else wants to run the committee, so the coronation proceeds, Frank in his element.
‘We have no specific agenda items for tonight’s meeting. Any other business?’
‘Clara sent in apologies on behalf of George. He’s still at that Old Boys’ thing.’
‘What about missing gnomes?’ asks Ted Coleman.
‘Stephen, would you like to take that one?’
‘As you know, I have been investigating the mysterious disappearance of a number of gnomes.’
A giggle splutters from a small section of the committee.
‘Any leads, Stephen?’
‘No one will be named unless and until they are charged, but we do have some significant leads.’
From the same spluttering section could be heard ‘wonder if Inspector Morse will turn up in his Jag for this one?’
Stephen Miller, police sergeant for Leeford Village and Vice-Chair, Leeford Village Parish Council, ignores the splutter. Nigel Cleeve coughs as necks are stretched to catch the expected defensive glare on behalf of his beleaguered wife, but makes no comment.
‘I will be interviewing Mr Gomez, who as you know runs a stall on the market, in addition to managing the launderette. He has lost two gnomes from his stall in the last week, and he has made a formal complaint. I will report back at the next Council meeting.
‘Yes, who is this?’ asks Clara, eyeing the phone with suspicion.
‘John Tonks, I took over from your husband as headmaster.’
‘Is there anything wrong?’
‘Well, yes, you know that George stayed over for a couple of days. My wife was very happy to accommodate him, until, well...’
‘What’s happened, has he been drinking?’
‘Not sure, but his behaviour is very odd and he seems quite confused. He told my wife that he is still headmaster and keeps calling me “young carrot”. That’s what he called me over thirty years ago.’
‘Oh, I see. I’m so sorry. I’ll arrange for George to be collected. Will tomorrow morning be alright?’
‘Yes of course. Goodnight Mrs Dennis.’
Jeremy Roberts examines the stranger. He has, indeed, lost his memory. He doesn’t know his own name, where he’s come from, or why he’s in Leeford. The doctor and Ted Coleman start the process of speaking to everyone who has seen the man around the village. They need to piece together his movements and track down his family - if he has any family.
‘I’ll talk to Stephen, he'll know what to do.’
‘Thanks Jeremy – we’ll get a room ready for him. Poor guy’s been sleeping rough.’
‘What about these drawings Ted?’
‘At least we know there’s a Swedish connection.’
‘I’m a GP, not a psychologist, but it seems to me that he’s trying to remember and he’s getting flashes of things, like the flag, the moose and something about, what was it, a newspaper?’
‘One thing’s for sure, at least this will distract Stephen from the stupid gnome mystery.’